Tait: Turnberry torture

Tom Watson looks on following his defeat in a playoff against Stewart Cink at the British Open in 2009.

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TURNBERRY, Scotland – Turnberry can lift your spirits. It also can break your heart.

It broke the hearts of millions of golf fans around the world Sunday. It now holds a special place in golf history. It is the scene of the most exhilarating British Open ever, and the most disappointing.

The 138th Open Championship won’t be remembered for Stewart Cink’s first major victory. It will be remembered for the year when we witnessed the biggest anti-climax in golf.

Tom Watson’s playoff loss is what we will remember. His inability to make a par on the 72nd hole will live not just with him for the rest of his life, but with golf purists, too.

This Open Championship will haunt us forever. When we think of Turnberry Opens, we won’t know which one to pick: the 1977 Championship when Watson exhilarated us by outgunning Jack Nicklaus in the famous “Duel in the Sun” or this year when Watson broke our hearts.

We will remember Turnberry 2009 as the year history wasn’t made, as the year the fairy tale did not come true, and lasting proof that there is no such thing as golfing gods, or fate – just the grim, harsh reality of life.

If ever there was a major that gave credence to the old adage that golf was never meant to be fair, then this was it.

For 71 holes, Watson looked and played like he was 27 years old again. For five holes, he looked all of his 59 years.

The only comfort Watson can take from his collapse over the playoff holes is that he wasn’t the only one who crashed and burned there.

Ross Fisher might have won his first major had he not taken a quadruple bogey at the par-4 fifth hole. Fisher drove into the right rough, then hacked around for about 15 minutes and threw away his Open chances.

“It’s a shame,” Fisher said. “I fought all the way, and just one bad swing cost me. That’s golf.”

Unfortunately that is golf, and Fisher isn’t the only one who knows it. How Lee Westwood must wish he also could play the 72nd hole again.

Like Watson, Westwood also bogeyed the last hole. He found a fairway bunker off the tee, then hit a career shot that should have got him into the playoff.

From the fairway bunker, Westwood managed to get the ball on the putting surface. Once he got to the green, he made the mistake of looking back down the fairway and saw Watson’s ball in the middle of it. That’s when he made a fatal error.

The Englishman thought he needed to hole his 40-foot birdie putt at the last just to get into a playoff.

“I’ve gone from frustration to sickness now,” Westwood said candidly. “I thought I had to hole it, to be perfectly honest. I didn’t see Tom bogeying the last since he’s such an experienced player.”

Westwood missed a playoff for a major championship by a stroke for the second year in a row. Last year he missed the Tiger Woods-Rocco Mediate U.S. Open playoff by a shot, too.

Westwood might not have needed to par the last had he not bogeyed the 15th and 16th holes. He played the last four in 2 over par when four consecutive pars would have given him the title.

No wonder he felt sick.

Retief Goosen will look back at this Open and wonder what if, too. He doubled bogeyed the par-3 15th hole when a par would have put him into the playoff.

However, this will be remembered as Watson’s Open.

“It would have been a hell of a story,” Watson said. “But it wasn’t to be. It tears at your guts as it always has torn at your guts. It’s not easy to take.”

That might have been the understatement of the week. Thousands of fans trudged away from Turnberry feeling as if Stewart Cink had slain Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny with one mighty swish of his driver.

They will remember this Open the same way Watson will look back on it. Twenty-six years after his last of five Open victories, and 32 years after his greatest triumph in the Open Championship, Watson’s hopes ended in tears.

“The dream almost came true,” Watson said.

What was it T.S. Eliot said?

“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

That’s how the 138th Open ended.

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